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Fragile Families Challenge special issue feedback

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We’ve recently completed the first round of reviews for papers in the special issue of Socius about the Fragile Families Challenge. There were many really interesting manuscripts submitted, but there were a variety of issues that came up repeatedly in the reviews. Therefore, in addition to providing feedback on each manuscript individually, we also developed some overall feedback that we provided to all authors. We are posting that feedback here in the hopes that it might help others who are planning to run a mass collaboration and publish a special issue.

Feedback to all authors

Based on our reading of all submissions and all reviews, we are encouraging all authors submitting revisions to the special issue to give extra attention to reviewer comments in the following three areas:

1) Accuracy. We are encouraging all revisions to focus on more clearly describing what they did, why they did it, and what might be learned from it. You must accurately report what you did. When reviewers ask why you did something, this is an important question to address. For the purpose of the special issue, you do not always need a formal justification for making a decision; if you just thought it seemed reasonable, you should say that.

In addition, we are encouraging all authors to clearly report all of their results, not just those that make their approach look more promising. When deciding whether to publish the paper, a major factor for us will be whether the paper communicates clearly the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. This factor will be much more important than whether the results are “interesting” or “promising.” Any reviewer comments about selective reporting are especially important to address.

If you used an approach that required tuning parameters (e.g., the lambda parameter in LASSO), please say how you set the parameters. The most common approaches seem to be cross-validation or using the defaults in the software. This should be clear in the papers.

2) Interest. A reader of your paper should quickly see why it would be of interest to some social scientists or some data scientists. We encourage you to add a few sentences in the introduction that that clarifies what you think are the most interesting or important ideas or results in your paper. Again, we think this will be helpful given the interdisciplinary nature of the readership. Also, if you think the main contribution is to establish the baseline against which future efforts can be compared, we think that is an important contribution.

3) Presentation. It is very important that the special issue be readable for both data scientists and social scientists. These communities sometimes use different language, and we have sought reviewers from both cultures. When reviewers are confused about something common in your field, realize that an extra sentence or reference might make the paper more readable to a diverse audience, thereby increasing the impact of your paper.

Also, inconsistent terminology often stands in the way of effective presentation. Be careful that your manuscript uses internally consistent terminology. One recommendation to promote consistency is to choose a book or an authoritative article and use its terminology. This way, terminology will be internally consistent, and confused readers are immediately pointed toward a source that can help them understand.

Stepping back from these three areas of focus, we would like to remind authors that the use of online supporting material can greatly improve accuracy, interest, and presentation. Yet very few of the manuscripts used this opportunity. Online supporting materials can be arbitrarily long and provide an opportunity to be clear about even the most mundane decisions (accuracy), reduce clutter in the paper so that non-specialists can follow the main ideas (interest), and provide an outlet to share details with researchers who wish to understand and build on your work (presentation). If there is part of your paper that will be of interest to only a small subset of readers, we strongly encourage you to put this information in the online supporting materials.

Based on our reading of all submissions and all reviews, we are encouraging all authors submitting revisions to the special issue to make certain formatting changes:

1) In the acknowledgements, you should list and cite the software that you use. This will promote reproducibility and give academic credit to folks that create software. We recommend these two sentences like this: “The results in this paper were created with software written in R 3.3.3 (R Core Team, 2017) using the following packages: ggplot2 2.2.1 (Wickham, 2009), broom 0.4.2 (Robinson, 2017), and caret 6.0-78 (Kohn, 2017). Replication code for this article is available at [ url coming soon, we are still exploring permanent homes for your code ].” If you would like to learn more about citations in R, we recommend: http://www.blopig.com/blog/2013/07/citing-r-packages-in-your-thesispaperassignments/ If you would like to learn more about citations in Python, we recommend: https://www.scipy.org/citing.html. We realize that citation standards for software are still evolving, so please ask if you have any questions.

2) Each of your papers should acknowledge the funders of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and the funders of the Fragile Families Challenge. Therefore, we ask you add these sentences to the acknowledgements section of your paper: “Funding for the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development through grants R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421 and by a consortium of private foundations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Funding for the Fragile Families Challenge was provided by the Russell Sage Foundation.”

3) Several reviewers who were not part of the Challenge found the papers slightly confusing. Although we previously told you not to describe the Challenge, we think that was a mistake. You are writing a paper for a special issue of a journal, not a book chapter. Therefore, we would ask that you add one paragraph in the introduction of your paper providing a brief overview of the Challenge. Obviously the entire Challenge cannot be described in one paragraph, so you can cite our introduction to the special issue to provide more information. For now you can cite the introduction as Salganik, Lundberg, Kindel, and McLanahan “Introduction to the special issue on the Fragile Families Challenge.” We think this change will help make the articles more self-contained and will therefore increase their impact.

4) We encourage you to add a single paragraph in the introduction section of your paper that provides a roadmap to your paper. For example, “In Section 2 we describe our approach to data preparation. Then, in Section 3 we describe our procedure for variable selection. In Section 4, we describe the different models we used for prediction and compare their performance. In Section 5, we attempt to interpret the predictive models. The paper conclusions with recommendations for future research.” Although many short papers do not require this kind of roadmap, we think that it will be helpful given the interdisciplinary nature of the readership.

We are offering the two forms of support below to help you write the best paper possible.

1) Additional analyses. If the authors would like to undertake additional analyses that would require access to the holdout data, we would be happy to help facilitate that so long as all results are reported in the paper as post-Challenge results.

2) Talk with editors. We believe an open exchange often produces the best papers. If you have any questions please email us (fragilefamilieschallenge@gmail.com). If the authors would like to talk to us after having read through the reviews and charted a plan for the revisions, feel free to email us, and we would be happy arrange that.

Regarding your code, some of you have already heard from us about our efforts to reproduce your results and others will hear from us soon. We hope that while you are revising and improving your paper, you will also revise and improve your code. You will receive more specific instructions from us soon.

About Matt Salganik

Matthew Salganik is a Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. He is also the author of Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age (http://www.bitbybitbook.com). You can learn more about his research at http://www.princeton.edu/~mjs3.

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